- scene: A soft mix of sexy and classic in an unconventional dining room; Large windows in the front but cozier near the open kitchen in the back; feels very French
- sip: The No 2; any carefully crafted cocktail
- savor: Ouef Norvégien; fried quail; chocolate mousse
- sit: With your lover for a top-notch date night; with a breakfast meeting you are trying to impress; with your foodie friend from out of town
- spend: $$$
- address: 138 Lafayette Street (near Howard)
- phone number: (212) 271-4252
- website: www.lecoucou.com
My dinner at Le Coucou made me giddily, grinningly happy. It has been a long time since the atmosphere, food, and most importantly service, impressed me to the degree that Le Coucou did. I am not saying that everything was perfect, and perhaps my standards for service have been lowered due to the dire situations I have experienced lately (La Sirena, Le Coq Rico, I am talking about you) but Le Coucou is what dining in a pedigreed restaurant should be. Also, Husband, a notorious curmudgeon and reluctant diner at hyped new restaurants, was also blown away by our server, which was eager to accommodate his aversion to vegetables. Stephen Starr, you are doing something right.
Le Coucou is picture perfect, and it would be easy to dismiss the beautiful hostess as a stereotype, but she was helpful, efficient and engaged, far from just a model on autopilot. The bar area is small but well articulated, and any dalliance into “too precious” territory is canceled out by the character of the bartender, which is refreshingly attitude free. The No 2 cocktail seems like it was made for me ( or maybe any white chick), and I am obsessed with it: rosé, aquavit and elderflower, garnished with a cucumber; this should be mandatory drinking all summer long. The Roman and Williams designed dining room is stunning, basically divided into front and back areas, anchored by a large wall of windows in the front and the gorgeous, bustling open kitchen in the back. The first table at which we were seated was one of a couple of oddly placed tables straddling the two dining rooms and flush with a service station, awkward and in the way; fortunately they were able to accommodate our request for another table.
My take-away from Le Coucou was this: don’t be afraid to be a little daring with your order. The more complex, or slightly unfamiliar items that we tried reaped the biggest rewards. The Ouef Norvégien is sure to be a talking point for anyone who visits Le Coucou, and it was as good as I could have dreamed. A huge, perfectly poached egg is covered with airy, whipped creamed cheese dotted with scallions, then covered with perfectly silky and salty smoked salmon. The whole lot is placed over soft artichokes and some arugula, and when tasted it brings to mind the most composed, layered breakfast item you could imagine. The scallion cheese does not overpower the delicateness of the salmon, which was good enough to be a stand-alone item. The egg yolk simply gives some extra viscosity and fattiness. The fried quail was as perfectly done as one could hope, a substantially sized quail with the bones gently removed when needed, with a crunchy fry, herb butter that melts into the meat and a little lemon for some zip.
For our main courses, I knew I wanted Dover Sole but husband was having a hard time making his selection. He has an intrinsic aversion to many types of vegetables and was not sold on ordering the lamb chops due to what he viewed as the offensive presence of eggplant. When he asked the waiter if there was any way to substitute the eggplant for something he might actually eat, like potatoes, the response offered could not have been better. The waiter was eager to find a solution, and amenable to asking the chef to work in a new element to the dish. Too often any request to alter a dish slightly is answered with “no substations” or “this is how the chef envisions this dish,” so a waiter and ultimately a chef being open to tweaking a menu item to please a customer was a breath of fresh air. Our waiter was really happy to find a solution and even made sure it was pleasing (it was,) instead of being haughty and condesencing. Service, apparently, is not dead, it has just been hiding in Paris (or Philadelphia?!) My dover sole was a little overwhelmed by the amount of buttery sauce heaped on and around it, and such a delicate fish I feel would have been better served by the addition of more citrus to cut the thickness of the sauce. The grapes also seemed a little misguided, but overall a pleasant dish.
For dessert I pretended I was in Paris and allowed myself a taste of three cheeses, and Husband got the chocolate mousse, both of which were phenomenal. Chef Daniel Rose was on the floor at times, but was most definitely hard at work. He has an easy charm but has the essence of someone who would rather be running a kitchen than schmoozing a room. I was happy to have grabbed his attention for a very quick chat.
Daryl went to Le Coucou for breakfast and was equally smitten, especially with how the space looks in full daylight. While the breakfast menu is not overly ambitious (in a good way), everything she ate was cooked properly and had precise flavors. Daryl’s takeaway was that come Fall, Le Coucou will be the hot place for breakfast meetings for the fashion set, and should be filed away as the go-t0 place to impress your breakfast companion without being pretentious.
Le Coucou is not to be missed, and will be the place everyone is talking about. Go for the food but go back for the service…
Pants tip: Make a night of it and grab a drink around the corner at The Blond, sexy sexy…